Wednesday, August 8, 2007



By: Prof. Fred S. Cabuang

PUBLICATION: The Manila Times

Page No.: A-5, Opinion

Date Published: August 4, 2007

August is the month of the year when we focus our attention on national language as well as regional languages in the Philippines. Our country is not only rich in natural and human resource, the Philippines is rich in languages. Ethnology 2002 listed around 163 languages including the endangered “negrito” languages. Latest count by some foreign linguists is now somewhere between 170 and 180. The count includes the “endangered languages” and the “threatened languages.” The endangered and threatened languages are increasing due to the close personal interactions of different ethnic communities and the opportunity for these communities to adopt the stronger language and replace the weaker language between and among the interacting communities.

Another reason why some languages begin to deteriorate is because some community members become simply “lazy” to speak their own language once they discover that there is another language that is more conveniently acceptable to many and that their language can be replaced with great ease and carries a high social acceptability. The strength of the language is measured by the number of people using a language for communication specially in education, commerce and day-to-day social activities.

There are many of us who still do not give importance to the value of language specially the “lingua franca” or “mother tongue.” The "lingua franca" or “mother tongue” is the language spoken at home by family members and the language being used by the members of the same community. The survival of the “mother tongue” is as important as saving “nature” and “humankind.” The protection of endangered species such as “plants and animals” and “people” who are classified as minority, such as women, children, disabled and senior citizens includes the protection of their “culture and language” under many international agreements.

In the 1800s, Ornolfor Thorsson, an adviser of the President of Iceland stated,
said, "Without our language , we have no culture, we have no identity, we are nothing."

Ornolfor Thorsson said this when the Icelandic language was in danger of
disappearing after years of Norwegian colonialism. Had this happened,
the Icelanders as an ethnolinguistic people would have disappeared from the face of the earth.

Some countries belonging to the new order have signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights where in Article 27, the rights of persons belonging to ethnic, religious and LINGUISTIC MINORITIES are well protected.

The United Nation (Resolution 47/135) adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 1992 specifically stated;


1- States (member countries) shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and LINGUISTIC IDENTITY OF MINORITIES within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.

2- STATES SHALL TAKE APPROPRIATE LEGISLATION and other measures to achieve those ends.


1- Persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and LINGUISTIC MINORITIES (hereinafter referred to as persons belonging to minorities) have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion and TO USE THEIR OWN LANGUAGE, IN PRIVATE AND IN PUBLIC, FREELY AND WITHOUT INTERFERENCE OR ANY FORM OF DISCRIMINATION.


1- STATES SHALL TAKE MEASURES where required to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full EQUALITY before the law.

2- STATES SHALL TAKE MEASURES to create favourable conditions to enable persons belonging to minorities to express thier characteristics AND TO DEVELOP THEIR CULTURE, LANGUAGE, religion, traditions and customs, ...


4- STATES SHOULD, WHERE APPROPRIATE, TAKE MEASURES IN THE FIELD OF EDUCATION, in order to encourage knowledge of the history, traditions, LANGUAGE AND CULTURE of the minorities existing within their territory.

You see, the advocacy to save the Philippine languages is not just a matter of protecting our “languages” but also protecting our Philippine “culture.” Our culture and languages will define our true Filipino identity. To fight for the preservation and protection of all languages in the Philippines, is not just a fight, but also a question of "RIGHT."

Unfortunately, here in the Philippines, there is still a lot of work to be done. Beginning from the compliance of all the provisions stated in many covenants and U.N. resolutions that concern language issues, our country does not have a working committee (regular, special, or otherwise) in Congress that will handle such concerns. The Philippines has been a signatory of all these covenants and resolutions, and initiating the so called “legislation and measures” as required by these international agreements is not possible if these matters on languages have no place in the Legislative Branch.

If we ignored the call to protect and save our languages today, where would the Filipinos be in five decades!!!

(Prof. Fred S. Cabuang is the Spokesperson and Vice-President for Congressional of SOLFED Foundation Inc. an NGO engaged in saving all languages in the Philippines. He is also the founder of the Institute for Linguistic Minority, an NGO to save the endangered languages of Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao. For comments, please send email to

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